Sheldon bill would open door to recreational target shooting on DNR lands

Proposal resolves liability issues for state Department of Natural Resources — Belfair area a possible location

OLYMPIA – A bill from Sen. Tim Sheldon that clears up liability issues for recreational target shooting on public lands gets its first hearing Thursday, making it possible for the state Department of Natural Resources to designate target-shooting areas for sportsmen.

The hearing on Senate Bill 5865 is set for 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks. The hearing will be streamed on TVW, the Legislature’s public-affairs network, at the following link:

Sheldon’s bill aims to settle liability questions that have hindered the state Department of Natural Resources in developing designated areas for target shooting, for firearms and bow-shooting. The measure establishes that the state would not be liable for unintentional injuries.

“The liability issue has been the major obstacle in designating areas for target shooting,” Sheldon explained. “We have many organized groups interested in leasing public lands for this purpose, and the Department of Natural Resources has developed rules to regulate designated target-shooting areas. This bill simply establishes that target shooters assume all risk themselves.”

Under state law, landowners who permit public use of their property are generally protected from liability when they do not charge a fee. However, DNR rules envision leasing arrangements, allowing shooters to develop shooting ranges, including earthen backstops that can stop projectiles safely.

The bill adds recreational target shooting in designated areas to the list of activities under which landowners are protected from liability. It also establishes that lease payments are not to be considered a fee.

Sheldon’s proposal isn’t new. He offered a similar bill in 2019, and another measure was introduced in the Senate in 2020 by Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley. Other bills have been introduced in previous sessions in the House.

“This is an issue in rural districts like mine, where gun ownership is common and learning to shoot is a rite of passage,” Sheldon said. “Designated areas improve safety, give gun owners a chance to hone their skills, and reduce random gunfire in the woods.”

Sheldon said that if the bill passes, he hopes DNR will move quickly to establish a range in the Tahuya Forest area of his 35th Legislative District. Such ranges also would likely be popular among sportsmen statewide, he said. DNR manages nearly 3 million acres of public land in the state of Washington.